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Protesters, comedy fans clash at Bill Cosby's Baltimore performance

The four women stood on the same brick sidewalk Friday night outside the Modell Center for the Performing Arts. All four identified themselves as survivors of sexual assault. But in every other way that mattered, they were miles apart.

Two of the women carried signs and a megaphone and said they were there on behalf of the dozens of women who say they were sexually abused by Bill Cosby between 1965 and 2008. Julia Griffin, 19, of Towson, and Sonja Kinzer, 46, of Glen Arm, said they want to make sure that Cosby never performs his standup act in Baltimore again.

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The other two — Zeanyanna Johnson, 51, and Ruth Flowers, 82 — came out in support of the entertainer, who denies the accusations and who has not been charged with a crime.

"I have been sexually assaulted," said Johnson, who lives in Baltimore. "I know what it feels like. But the man hasn't been charged with a crime, and the man hasn't gone to court. The Bible says, 'Judge not, lest you be judged.'"

The disagreement between protesters and patrons started outside the venue at 140 W. Mount Royal Ave., as has become common on what Cosby has called his Far From Finished Tour. Both sides traded barbs as the ticket buyers made their way past about 15 picketers. The protest was organized by the advocacy group SlutWalk Baltimore.

But during the Baltimore show, the disagreement spilled over into the performance itself.

About 10 minutes into Cosby's set, and in the middle of an anecdote about grammar, a man stood up in the middle of the balcony of the half-full auditorium and shouted: "Thirty-eight women spoke up and called you a rapist. Thirty-eight women!"

Throughout the hall, customers who were angry that the comedy act was being disrupted began to yell, "Shut up!" One called out, "I love you, Bill!."

As Cosby's heckler demanded a response, Cosby called for his fans to remain quiet.

"I am going to handle this the way I want it handled," he said, his voice reflecting no apparent unease.

"We're going to remain calm. We don't need to yell and argue. We're going to let the person talk until the usher finds him and politely and quietly gets him to leave."

Five minutes later, the protester was escorted out, and Cosby continued his routine, though some of his comic bits might have become colored with unintentional overtones.

For instance, Cosby talked about being 3 years old and stealing a quarter from the collection plate at church. It was his first understanding of what it meant to sin.

He told the crowd that he vastly preferred Jesus Christ to his less-forgiving father.

"Jesus would give you a little wiggle room," Cosby said.

"If you did something wrong, he'd say, 'OK, don't do it again.' "

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Anecdotes like that that left Kinzer feeling bewildered, she said. How, she asked, could anyone hear that and not be offended?

"These people know these women were victimized, and they couldn't care less," she said. "They should be ashamed of themselves."

But Johnson and Flowers didn't see it that way. They're bothered that the women waited for decades, in some instances, before coming public with their accusations.

"Why didn't they come forward at the time?" Johnson asked. "What I say is: Show me some evidence before you destroy a legend."

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